Activities With Elements of Competition

Official Statements October 7, 1998


The Seventh-day Adventist Church and its various organizations, in their concern about competition and rivalries, wish to clarify their position and to recommend certain guidelines for activities which may involve competition. These proposals are intended to give direction and guidance to individual members, churches, conferences, and institutions of the Church from the perspective of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.

God’s Plan

1) A Better Way. The ideal is cooperation and unity in God’s Church, as illustrated in I Cor 12:12-31, where the parts of the Church, as symbolized by the parts of the body, work together for the good of the whole. There is sympathetic cooperation; there is no rivalry.

2) God’s Plan for His Work. “Character-building is the most important work ever entrusted to human beings; and never before was its diligent study so important as now . . . Never before were young men and young women confronted by perils so great as confront them today . . . God’s plan of life has a place for every human being. Each is to improve his talents to the utmost; and faithfulness in doing this, be the gifts few or many, entitles one to honor. In God’s plan there is no place for selfish rivalry” (Ed 225, 226).

A Balanced Approach to Life

Seventh-day Adventists believe that man is an integrated being whose physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs are interrelated and interdependent. They are concerned with the total development of each individual, feeling that every person needs consistent and appropriately planned physical exercise. To meet this need, at the turn of the century, Seventh-day Adventist institutions, generally located in rural areas, offered ample opportunities for physical exercise.

Today institutions operate in ever more crowded environs with shrinking opportunities for useful work as a means of recreation. In addition to this shift from a rural to an urban society, occupations demanding physical activity have decreased, tensions have multiplied, and leisure time is increasingly dominated by sedentary entertainment such as radio, television, and movies. In order to compensate for these changes, a carefully balanced approach to physical activity must be encouraged in the Church’s schools, churches, and other institutions.

In any church or school situation involving organized physical activities, the results can be beneficial if the following ideals prevail: cooperativeness, helpfulness, selflessness, a cordial spirit, playing for enjoyment rather than only to win, and observing the rules in spirit and not merely in letter.

“Recreation, when true to its name, re-creation, tends to strengthen and build up” (Ed 207). It will not foster selfishness, rivalry, hostility, strife, love of dominance, love of pleasure, or unwholesome excitement.

Effective leadership will take the responsibility for achieving these objectives.

Purposes and Goals for Church Activities

All the programs and activities of the Church should contribute to the development of a Christ-like character and effective witnessing. They shall foster the attainment of the following:

1) The full development of Christian love and unselfish consideration of others (1 Cor 13).

2) Mutual respect and fellowship among believers, as illustrated in the figure of the church body as a unit (1 Cor 12).

3) Emancipation from selfish rivalry and the development of the higher experience of cooperative endeavor.

4) The development of a healthy body, mind, and spirit.

5) Provision for and implementation of wholesome social relationships.

6) Inspiration for and direction toward the acceptable worship of God.

7) The encouragement of individuals to work toward the highest and best of which they are capable in all worthy pursuits.

8) Activation of the enormous human resources of the Church for soul-winning.

Any activities which frustrate these basic goals shall be rejected.

Specific Situations

In keeping with the foregoing statements of purpose, the following are recommended to minimize the use of rivalrous competition as a motivational tool within the Church:

1) Exposure to commercialized, highly competitive activities shall not be encouraged.

2) Satisfying alternative activities which avoid unwholesome competitive involvement shall be sought.

3) In the development of incentives for individual action, participation, and personal advancement in the work of the Church, the program shall be so structured that individuals will relate to a standard of performance rather than to a system which involves interpersonal, interchurch, and interinstitutional rivalry.

4) While giving recognition to the efforts or achievements of individuals or groups, it is important that it shall be done in such a manner as to give God the glory for the success of the endeavor rather than to foster glorification of individuals.

5) A program or activity shall be arranged to provide some level of success for every individual, helping to preserve individuality, identity, personality, and constant dependence on God. Each participant shall receive some degree of recognition. Any such recognition shall avoid extravagance and extreme differences.

6) In recognizing achievement, consideration shall be given to improving the recipient’s efficiency and effectiveness in the work of the Lord.

7) Statistical reporting involving growth in membership or financial matters shall be used to encourage good works and not as tools expressive of rivalrous attitudes which are created to facilitate the efficiency of organizations.

8) Internal school grading procedures shall reflect the personal growth and development of the individual student and his mastery of the essential requirements of his discipline rather than his relative standing alongside peers.

9) Any activity that restricts potential success to the few shall

a. Be discontinued, or

b. Be limited to temporary combinations in recreational settings, or

c. Be used as necessary aids to help identify basic skills needed for entry into a particular profession, e.g., aptitude tests or requirements for entrance to a professional school.

10) The construction and the expansion of church buildings and institutional plants shall be for the purposes of need and function, with due consideration for good taste, aesthetic requirements, and simplicity of architectural beauty. All attempts to erect buildings which will excel or rival buildings of sister institutions and conferences shall be considered as incompatible with Seventh-day Adventist ideals.

“Never are we to rely upon worldly recognition and rank. Never are we, in the establishment of institutions, to try to compete with worldly institutions in size or splendor. We shall gain the victory, not by erecting massive buildings, in rivalry . . . but by cherishing a Christlike spirit–a spirit of meekness and lowliness” (7T 100).

11) Since rivalry and many selfish attitudes can originate in the home, it is imperative that parents cultivate in their children attitudes which will avoid a pattern of selfish rivalry in later life.

Church-Sponsored Activities With Elements of Competition

Standards of achievement and the pressures resulting therefrom shall not be confused with destructive rivalry. It is recognized that in all areas of church activity there may be standards of achievement set by organizations and controlling committees. The above guidelines shall be applied to all the activities and programs of the Church, conferences, and institutions, such as the following:

1) Campaigns

2) Contests: College Bowl, Pathfinder, oratorical, Bible quiz, debates

3) Recreation, including athletic programs

4) Grading systems*

5) Scholarships, academic honors

6) Striving after position

7) Design, style, and dimensions of buildings

8) Achieving church goals.

Controlling Motivational Programs

Because enlightened leadership is essential in implementing and controlling motivational programs, the following observations are apropos:

1) Leadership. In selecting leaders for church programs, the following qualifications shall be emphasized:

a. Spirituality, dedication, experience, and ability to organize.

b. The capability of commanding the respect of students and other leaders and maintaining the proper authority and discipline.

c. Commitment to the purpose and goals stated in this statement.

d. The ability to challenge and inspire participants to take part enthusiastically in realizing the goals projected herein.

e. Knowledge about activities in which they are involved and of the implications thereof-physical, mental, spiritual, and social.

2) Safeguards and Controls. Experience has demonstrated the necessity of establishing adequate safeguards and controls in church activity.

Implementation includes the following:

a. Obtaining and using acceptable equipment and facilities with all appropriate safety precautions.

b. Planning for the transportation of church groups under the guidance and direction of responsible adults.

c. Respecting the Sabbath by refraining from travel related to secular activities and, so far as possible, religious activities.

d. Securing sufficient insurance protection for participants and equipment including transportation.

e. Safeguarding the health and safety of touring groups by refraining, as far as possible, from night-time travel, irregular meals, and poor housing arrangements.

Organized Physical and Recreational Activities

1) Objectives of Physical Activities.

a. To improve the physical development and the body function of the participant.

b. To develop the individual’s neuromuscular control in the fundamental movements, overall body mechanics, and basic skill in activities which harmonize with the principles outlined in this statement.

c. To eliminate defects that can be corrected and improve the general physical condition of the person insofar as these may be influenced by a properly designed exercise program.

d. To achieve mental and intellectual development by the use of strategy, decision under pressure, and organization of thought necessary to function successfully.

e. To develop the character to include self-discipline, self-reliance, emotional control, respect for the rights of others, and moral and ethical conduct based on Christian ideals.

f. To provide proper physical experiences and recognition of achievement that will contribute to self-discovery, emotional stability, and cooperative social relationships.

g. To develop the spiritual qualities and social traits that make up a good citizen with Christian morals and ethics to guide in human relationships.

h. To develop recreational skills that have a beneficial function as activities for leisure time throughout life.

I. To develop safety and self-defense skills that will increase the capacity for protecting oneself and assisting others in daily activities and in emergencies. Training in the martial arts and physical activities which emphasize aggressiveness and competitiveness are to be avoided.

j. To develop an awareness of the aesthetic values inherent in physical and recreational activities.

k. To promote a love for nature and the out-of-doors and a realization of the contributions one can make toward living a happier, more abundant life.

l. To aid in the development of a philosophy of life that includes proper attitudes and practices in regard to the care of one’s body. This balanced approach to physical, mental, spiritual, and social development has been and may be promoted through such activities as the following:

1. Outdoor recreation and nature activities such as swimming, cycling, horsemanship, skiing, canoeing, gymnastics, gardening, hiking, camping, rock collecting, scuba diving, spelunking, and other recreations.

2. Avocations such as ceramics, rock-cutting, auto mechanics, agriculture, woodwork, leather craft, sculpture, and photography.

3. Formally organized and properly directed intramural programs involving participation of all team members desiring to take part.

Intramural and Recreational Activities

Intramural means “within walls,” and such activities are confined to and among individuals of each specific church, school, or institution. When properly conducted, they will develop character, physical fitness, and wholesome group interaction. To ensure the wholesome benefits that may be derived from an organized program of intramural and recreational activities, the following objectives are recommended:

1) A committee of representative leaders and participants should be established to plan and control organized recreational activities in any church, school, or institution.

2) Directors of physical activities should be aware of the participants’ need for a balanced program which should include recreation from sources other than organized sports.

3) Appropriate classification of participants should be established on such factors as physical size, age, and skills, and provision should be made to include all who wish to participate.

4) Care should be taken to provide adequate equipment and facilities in the interest of health and safety.

5) Participant and spectator orientation to the philosophy and objectives stated in this statement should be requisite to organized physical activities.

6) Excesses in team and crowd reaction should be avoided and qualified officials should be in charge to ensure a wholesome spirit of participation.

7) Team participants should be rotated periodically to de-emphasize rivalry.

Interschool Sports

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is opposed to interschool league play (commonly known as varsity athletics) in its educational system. The major rationale for this is:

1) The inherent hazards of competitive rivalry have the potential to be exaggerated in interorganizational events; and

2) The commitments of time, personnel, and finances are usually disproportionate to the number of individuals able to participate.


1) Christians should function with the highest motives in their quest for athletic excellence.

2) Occasional friendship games or matches involving institutions at joint social gatherings are not classified as intermural or interschool athletics.

3) All people have talents–some more, some less. God expects faithfulness in service regardless of talents or pay (Matt 20:1-16). Even though talents are distributed differently, God expects individuals to develop what they have to the best of their ability; and they will be given responsibility according to their faithfulness. The Scriptures remind us, “Whatever you are doing, put your whole heart into it, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men, knowing that there is a Master who will give you your heritage as a reward for your service” (Col 3:23, NEB).

* It is recognized that in many educational systems, promotion from one level of education to another is based on scoring high marks in competitive examinations. Admission to professional and graduate schools, necessary in preparation for certain vocations, is granted to those who excel above their peers in such examinations or by the achievement of high grades in classes. Also success in many crowded vocations can be achieved only by performing at a higher level than others. Since some aspects of competition are inherent to modern life, the genuine Christian will minimize these as much as possible. It is hoped that the guidelines herein stated will be helpful in eradicating the selfish rivalry or unwholesome competition which is detrimental to the development of Christian character.

This statement was approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee at the Annual Council session in Nairobi, Kenya, October 7, 1988.